Sawtooth Ridge on the Rocky Mountain Front II – Big Sky Walker

Symbol: a person or thing who is widely admired, particularly because they have great influence or importance in a particular area

There is no shortage of famous peaks along the Rocky Mountain Front. Ear Mountain, Heart Butte, Chief Mountain, Steamboat and Sawtooth Ridge are some of my favorites. The sawtooth is perhaps the most recognizable due to its unique shape and location. It is visible to westbound travelers on both Highway 200 and I-15 (best visible in morning light). Plus, nothing says “I’m an icon” like being featured on a beer label. Next time you’re on Beer Island, check out the artist’s illustration of Sawtooth Ridge at Bayern’s Pilsner Lager.

Two things.
I have climbed the north tooth of Sawtooth Ridge a few times, each time coming from the north (see previous post). However, I have never climbed the slightly higher southern tooth. Early last Saturday morning (07/29/23) I set out on the 100 mile drive from Helena to Sun River Canyon west of Augusta with two goals in mind – I wanted to try a different route to the North Tooth, and I wanted to see , whether I could climb the intimidating southern tooth.

From Sun Canyon Lodge, I hiked 4 miles up Home Gulch on a well-traveled trail, turning left (off trail) shortly after crossing a grassy area called Agropyron Flats. I crossed a dry stream bed and then climbed a steep, 1.5 mile ridge to the top of the North Tooth (see maps in the photo tour). The ridge was challenging (2,500 feet elevation gain) but the grip was good and the bushwhacking was very reasonable. It’s a tricky climb in the last 50 meters to the summit. Although it was not as interesting as the route I had taken on my two previous trips, it was safer and easier (5.5 miles with about 3,500 feet of elevation gain from the lodge). It was sunny and calm and there was no haze – a perfect day to be in the North Tooth.

No news is good news.
After spending about 45 minutes taking drone photos, enjoying the views, and preparing to tackle the Southern Tooth, I began the questionable half-mile traverse along the ridge, not sure if I’d ever get one would find the way to the summit I am there. I carefully moved below the middle tooth (along the gum line) to a comfortably flat spot below the south tooth. I paused there and reminded myself that I never want to be “that guy” – the one on the evening news who had to be rescued from a place he couldn’t climb down from. After some climbing and exploring, I carefully followed a narrow ledge to a place where I could safely climb up – and more importantly, go back down. Once at the top, I saw the summit cairn, about 20 meters away and several feet higher than where I was standing. I could also imagine having to crawl over a short, razor-sharp ridge and then climb another steep rock face to get there. After another quick conversation with myself, I decided I had taken enough risks for one day and began my descent.

For what it’s worth.
I can warmly recommend the Nordzahn to anyone who is up to this task. However, access to the southern tooth involves significantly more effort and risk – and the view from the southern tooth is not as good as from the north tooth. Another consideration with the South Tooth is the route back to the trail. Do you go back the same way, cross the patchy ridge, or hike/slide down the boulder-filled basin? Neither are easy options. I decided to hike/slide down the pool (see photo tour). It wasn’t pleasant, but I made it down and was happy to be back on a trail for the last 4 miles of my adventure. The ride, which ended up covering 13.5 miles and 4,300 feet of elevation gain, took exactly 10 hours. I celebrated achieving both of my goals (and not becoming a headline) with a delicious tangerine beer at the lodge.

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Below: This map highlights hikes previously featured on, including several in Glacier Park – select full screen to enlarge, view for more detail, or click a marker for a link to the post.


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